The truth about vaccines

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By: Ben Hess, M.D., TCHC Chief Medical Officer


Every year, thousands of people fall ill with preventable diseases such as whooping cough or measles (read more here). Some recover. Some develop complications. Some even die.

Vaccines could stop that from happening. In fact, vaccines have the potential to completely wipe these diseases off of the planet. We did it with smallpox, we just about did it with polio, and we hope to someday eliminate them all.

But that can’t happen without vaccines.  vaccine in vial


How do vaccines work?

When germs cause an infection in your body, your immune system fights off that infection to make you well again. By doing so, it builds immunity to that illness so that you’re less likely to catch it again.

A vaccine imitates specific infections so that your body can build immunity to a disease without actually getting it.


Are they safe?

New vaccines always go through rigorous testing to determine risks and side effects. They are then regularly monitored while in use.

Just like any medication, there are side effects to vaccines, though minor and few. Most often, you might feel achy or develop a mild fever, but that’s actually good news. It’s a sign that your body is responding to the vaccine.

You might also experience bruising or muscle soreness at the site of injection. This is usually caused by being poked with a needle, not necessarily by the medication.

In rare cases, serious allergic reactions could occur, but that number is extremely small. Here are some statistics to show you how your chance of a serious reaction stacks up:

  • Break a bone: 1 in 55
  • Die in a motor-vehicle crash: 1 in 114
  • Die from measles: 1-2 in 1,000
  • Get struck by lightning: 1 in 12,000
  • Make the U.S. Olympic team: 1 in 380,000
  • Have an allergic reaction to measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) or Hepatitis B vaccine: 1 in 1 million

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Safety Council, Sanofi Pasteur)


Vaccines and autism: Is there a link?

In recent years, many people have declined to receive vaccinations, specifically MMR, because of a belief that they cause autism.

In order to understand that reasoning, it’s important to know where the idea first started.

British former physician Andrew Wakefield published a study in 1998 in The Lancet, a medical journal, suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

However, an investigation later revealed that Wakefield had manipulated and modified the data. Other violations included conducting invasive tests on children without ethical approval, using a pre-selected test pool of only 12 children, and accepting funding from lawyers whose clients were suing MMR companies.

Ultimately, The Lancet retracted the study, and Wakefield was stripped of his medical credentials.

Since then, many scientific entities have spent millions of dollars on studies involving millions of children worldwide. These studies show beyond a reasonable scientific doubt that there is no link between vaccines and autism.

child vaccines

Ask an expert

Having completed many years of medical school to become experts on topics like vaccines and diseases, my colleagues and I are here to help you interpret vaccine research so that you can make confident, informed decisions about your health and the health of your children.

If you have any questions, please reach out to your provider or another medical professional.


Here are some additional trusted resources related to vaccines:

Minnesota Department of Health

World Health Organization

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

How Vaccines Work – CDC

Case Studies – CDC


Dr. Hess

About the Author: A board-certified family practitioner and Chief Medical Officer at Tri-County Health Care, Ben Hess, M.D., was inspired to study medicine because he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives every day. While not at work, Hess enjoys hunting, fishing, bowling and listening to public radio. He and his wife have three daughters and make their home in Verndale.


Measles: Here’s what you need to know

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By: Ben Hess, M.D., TCHC Chief Medical Officer


For the first time in almost 30 years, measles has hit Minnesota with a vengeance.

As of June 9, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 76 total cases of measles in Hennepin, Ramsey, Crow Wing and Le Sueur counties.

To put that in perspective, Minnesota only had a total of 56 cases in the last 20 years, and this year, it already exceeded last year’s total for the entire United States.

This is the highest number of measles cases Minnesota has seen since 1990, when 460 people fell ill. With the numbers continuing to climb this year, it’s crucial that you learn all you can about the disease, what makes it so dangerous and how you can prevent the spread.


Recognizing the signs

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory virus. It is so contagious, in fact, that 90 percent of the people who come into contact with an infected individual will also become infected.

measles on childIf you’re infected, you are contagious for several days before you even know you’re sick and for several days after you think the illness has passed. The virus is also durable enough to survive for up to two hours in the air.

Because the disease settles in the mucus of the mouth and throat, breathing and swallowing can be difficult. Other symptoms include high fever, cough, red and watery eyes, runny nose, loss of appetite and fatigue.

You then develop a rash that begins as flat red spots at the hairline and spreads down your whole body.

When the disease takes hold, outcomes are unpredictable, especially in children younger than 5 and adults older than 20. They are more prone to serious conditions, like blindness, swelling of the brain, severe dehydration, ear infections or pneumonia. Even if they survive these complications, they could suffer from permanent damage or disability.

Unfortunately, there is no anti-viral treatment for measles, so all we can do is use supportive measures to try to relieve symptoms. Then we do our best to prevent the spread by quarantining people and improving vaccination rates.


Preventing the spreadMeasles graphic

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 thanks to vaccinations and improved measles control, but anti-vaccination campaigns are threatening that progress.

No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but the more people who are vaccinated, the less likely it is that a disease will spread.

Outbreaks always start with unvaccinated populations. Because measles is so highly contagious, if you get a large enough outbreak, even people who have had their vaccinations are susceptible.

Right now, there are large pockets of unvaccinated patients in the tri-county area. It would be extremely easy for one of those cases from the Metro or Crow Wing County to spread to this area, and it could spread like wildfire.

Anyone who is not up to date on their vaccinations should consider getting them as soon as they can.

For more information, click here.

Watch for next week’s blog post where I’ll discuss the benefits and risks associated with vaccines, including a look at the link between vaccines and autism.


Dr. HessAbout the Author: A board-certified family practitioner and chief medical officer at Tri-County Health Care, Ben Hess, M.D., was inspired to study medicine because he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives every day. While not at work, Hess enjoys hunting, fishing, bowling and listening to public radio. He and his wife have three daughters and make their home in Verndale.